Candles lit during a power outage, 08/28/03

“There are some things we just can’t express – like how angry you can be at the specters inside or how much you truly love someone and can’t quite show it. Things that are better written than said. Or better kept inside than written.”

Scott Liles, from his July 3 journal entry

Love is a complicated, difficult thing. With no tangible qualities, love still manages to manifest itself in very physical ways. Love has the ability to raise one’s spirits or crush them, perhaps simultaneously. And above all, love is really hard to express. At least for some people.

When you are raised with the mindset that “good is not good enough,” and where mistakes are punished; when you experience life from “the other side,” the one that isn’t everyone else’s; when you find that you just can’t fit in the way you’d like, no matter how hard you try to be friendly; you tend not to take chances as you grow older. Reaching out takes guts and is almost physically difficult. Meeting new people becomes draining and nerve-wracking, particularly if you already know you don’t look or feel like anyone else. Even the act of calling someone can be an anxious moment, where you spend the entire conversation wondering how the person on the other line sees you. You stammer and stumble after the handshake, you hang back in groups, and you don’t dare open up to anyone, lest your weakness be exposed and exploited. It’s one thing to be introverted; it’s another altogether to be nearly dysfunctional.

Some people don’t mind or don’t care that they have developed into virtual shut-ins, making themselves inaccessible to anyone — perhaps even themselves. The lack of friends, of social interaction, even of clear introspection somehow doesn’t bother them. I suppose that’s fine. Even hermits have the rights due to all humans. Others, however, can’t stand what they’ve become. They hate their own reclusive, withdrawn personalities. They hate the “specters inside,” as Scott describes them, and desperately wish they weren’t so haunted by their own fears. They want to be free of their own chains, to succeed at “fitting in” and “having a life” and “living it up.” They wish they could at least read themselves, know what they want and what to do with their lives. Life becomes an aimless journey while they sulk at their inner demons for holding them back. They may even be superficially “successful” and “independent,” putting up some facade or fake personality to be a part of the crowd…but inside they are wrecks.

And yet there’s hope. Humans have free will; we can shape ourselves and our futures. People can learn to change the way they approach life and find that not everyone is going to reject them for being themselves. It takes time, however, and it can’t be done alone. Someone who is so used to being hurt is not going to continue to expose themselves unless they are initially reassured that it’s safe. Some people can pull themselves out with little assistance, but most need some prodding. And it’s not always an easy or pleasant process. One can be outwardly angry at being placed in an awkward situation, but the inner reality is really one of fear, uncertainty, and anxiousness. The frustration at never being able to enjoy oneself can’t disappear overnight. Like any complicated task, it requires repetition and a number of failures before experiencing the joy of success.

No one has ever learned to ride a bike without falling off, and sometimes it takes some reassuring pressure to overcome the fear of falling — particularly if you’ve fallen enough to give up in the past.

Ironically, the people one loves are often inflicted with the most pain. Self-consciousness can be a bitch, even to the point where you don’t want to fail in front of someone you trust, know, or love. You end up being more frustrated when you fail, because you don’t want to fail and you don’t want to let them down. You might even have a better time with other people — at first — because you are not afraid of disappointing them. I’ve never heard of a father who didn’t yell at his kids while trying to teach them to drive.

What happens, though, when your staunchest supporter has had enough? Everyone has their limits. How do you apologize, express your sorrow for dragging someone through coals that aren’t their own? How do you tell them that you wish it could be any other way? And how do you tell someone that they should try harder, when you know that they’re already exhausted? Doesn’t that push against the boundaries of love? Couldn’t that force someone to fall away, when you know they’re on the edge? When you love someone beyond comprehension or description, how can you ask them to bear more frustration?

When you know the end result would be perfection, a harmony of two individuals with no fears of the world in front of them, wouldn’t you ask for the same?

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